Twenty-one days. Their list of supplies is running shorter by the day, their list of neccessities longer. Sasha can barely remember the last time he's had more than a few hours of sleep at once, and since setting out towards the west it's only gotten worse. "Do you think there's an organised community in New York?" Morgan asks, wiping motor oil stained hands against his shirt. He's tried to fix countless cars on their walk from Portland, tried to make their journey just a little more comfortable, just a little shorter. He's almost succeeded a few times. [[Twenty-one days and counting.]]There's nothing but broken, abandoned cars littering the highway for as far as Sasha can see. One might even be still usable, but he knows better than to let Morgan check every single one of them. There's a [[mess of steel and smoke]] from where a dark sedan crashed into a blue van. A Honda, Sasha thinks, but he can't be sure - the logo's missing. The sedan looks cheap and dirty enough to have been his car. (if: ((history:) contains "mess of steel and smoke"))[Morgan walks alongside him in silence, his idealistic attitude cut down by the hunger weighing on them both. The smell of the corpse still fills his nostrils, through his throat, down to the hollow of his stomach, but the emptiness is still painful. He could [[reach into their supplies]]. He could [[preserve rations]].]The smell of flesh, partly burnt, partly rotting, hits him even before the view of the corpse does. A part of her skull is flattened against the concrete, and her left shoulder is twisted out of its socket, contorting the arm into the front violently. The arm bone is exposed and rupturing through a soft part of her stomach all the way out her back. At least she's down for good. [[He returns to the middle of the road.->Twenty-one days and counting.]]There's seven granola bars in his backpack, along with a packet of dried fruit, and a can of sweetcorn Morgan found in an abandoned apartment on [[day sixteen]]. All of it is weeks past the expiration date. He grabs a granola bar, unwraps the sleek packaging, and breaks it in half. The other half goes to Morgan, who accepts it more out of habit than actual hunger. Morgan, Sasha has figured out over the past weeks, ignores hunger, thirst, sometimes sleep, and always the feelings of others. [[They still have seventy miles ahead of them.]]There's no telling how long it will take them to reach the next passingly-habitable city, or the next building that could pass for shelter, or the next mall that hasn't been completely looted already. They just don't have enough supplies to indulge every hunger pain. Morgan, though still quiet, seems unbothered by the fact they haven't eaten since they passed the border. Sasha wonders how long it's going to last before they have a repeat of [[day eighteen]]. Staying in one place is not the worst thing they could do at this time, but he wants to keep moving, keep his body walking, and his mind planning. He tries to remember the badly-traced route he'd marked on the map they picked up in an unlooted tourist's office in Downtown Portland. [[They still have seventy miles ahead of them.]] (set: $sasha to $sasha+1)Sixteen days. The sky is overcast. He climbs over the collapsed pillar of what used to be a bank in Munjoy Hill. The eastern part of the city is almost abandoned already, but the deserting residents left nothing behind but a few unfortunate corpses. Sasha didn't spend time thinking about their stories when they were alive, and he doesn't do it now. The rubble to his left crumbles. Sasha shoots his head into the direction of the noise. He spots nothing but a few insignificant pieces of debris slide down the crushed stairs. Then there's nothing but silence again, and the rush of his blood fills Sasha's ears completely. ["Hello?"]<h1| His words are tentative, unwilling to attract the attention of somebody that might just not be quite alive anymore. (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[Morgan steps out from the shadows of the only wall left standing, eyes all bright and smiling, and Sasha's heart stops for a moment. [[Sixteen days and counting.->reach into their supplies]]]]At least the weather is still mild enough that they don't need a fire. He catches Morgan messing with a cellphone, the one that had been working until last week, when it finally [[ran out of battery]]. He remembers Morgan trying to call his dad on the thing every few hours, waiting for the ringing to fade out completely before trying again, hours at a time. Sasha told him there wasn't much chance of his dad answering even before everything went to shit. [[Now there's no chance left.]]Eighteen days. Morgan isn't close enough to warn him from breaking the gas station window with his elbow. The sirens fill the air sharply and cut into Sasha's ears. He's reminded of Morgan's value every few hours, and it infuriates him. More importantly, he's just alerted everyone in the vicinity to their presence. Sasha grabs his backpack and pulls it on his shoulders, then waves at Morgan, who is standing by the road, eyes shut tight. He doesn't respond to any of Sasha's urgings to go. Sasha grabs his hands and drags them both away in a sprint. He doesn't stop until the sirens are just a faint whistle and they've reached a building that could remotely pass as a safehouse. Morgan stops and falls to his knees. His hands are pressed into his ears so hard Sasha can see the muscles on his arms tremble. The house is so run-down Sasha suspects it was abandoned way prior to the outbreak. But its walls are still standing, and there's enough heavy furniture to barricade the front door for the night. When he's finished, Morgan is still kneeling on the floor. Sasha sits down next to him because there's nothing he can do. [[Eighteen days and counting.->preserve rations]]"It didn't really run out of battery completely," Morgan explains, extracting the cell from the back of his iphone to show Sasha. "It's in a low power state, but it's still using some power to keep track of the date and time. The only way to power it down completely is to take out the battery. That's why you have to re-configure those every time you put it back in." Sasha tells him to [[shut up->They still have seventy miles ahead of them.]].By the time it gets dark, both of them are exhausted. The last sign they passed told them there were 65 miles until Boston. There's less cars out here than in the city, but they still pass one or two every few minutes. Sasha worries there will be no gas station in sight at least for another few hours. He stops next to a family-sized van, the one parked slightly off-road and abandoned in a hurry for whatever reason. The inside looks untouched, and the seats more comfortable than anything they've slept on for days. It's not the best place to sleep. [[It'll have to do.]](if: ((history:) contains "preserve rations"))[ They don't have the energy to look further.] (if: ((history:) contains "reach into their supplies"))[ [[He should look for somewhere safer.]] ]He steps aside, lets Morgan take care of the lock on the door. He has no idea what Morgan is doing, but it's over in less than a few minutes. The door is unlocked. Sasha shoves their backpacks in and climbs after them. The air inside is stale and heavy and it compresses his lungs, but the seats are soft from years of children sitting on them. He lays his head where the material has begun to even out already, and the outline of someone's thighs is the faintest. He doesn't want to fall asleep, not with the dead silence outside reminding him how alone they are. But Morgan's breathing is even as he squirms around in the front seats. Sasha can't see what he is doing. He assumes Morgan is looking through the compartments, trying to find documents of the car's previous owner. Sasha wills himself not to care. [[It's not the best sleep he's ever had, but it's uneventful.]]He can see a faint, irregular blinking coming from somewhere ahead. He can see Morgan can barely walk. He props him up for the rest of the walk towards [the light]<h1|. (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[It's coming from further down the road, spreading from a slim opening in the back of a truck. As they get closer, he can hear rustling and hushed voices echoing through the cargo trailer. Morgan looks at him in silence. Sasha frowns. There's a knife in the front pocket of his backpack and he takes it out. It's barely bigger than a swiss knife, and its blade has been dulled down from opening cans. It's the only thing he has to protect himself and Morgan. [[He pulls the fabric open.]] ]] He is woken by a loud, crackling voice, rhythmically disrupted by static. He shoots up. Morgan is sitting in the driver's seat, fiddling with the buttons on the car's radio. When he notices Sasha in the rearview mirror, he turns back and smiles. "I got the radio to work!" Sasha sits up properly. It's bright outside, and Morgan is squinting. Sasha can see the blood vessels in his eyes clearly. "Have you slept any?" he demands through a dry throat. [[Morgan doesn't answer.]] (set: $morgan to $morgan+2)(t8n: "shudder")[// broad....vey informa....n as received from....this is your....ense emergency radio network....normal....cilities have been tem....ontinued....stay tu....this wave length....mergency in....mation...//] Morgan [shuts the radio]<h1| off. (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[They set out towards the south less than half an hour from Sasha waking up. In the daylight, Sasha can see a transport truck up ahead, the cabin turned away from the cargo trailer at an almost ninety degree angle. The logo on the side says Kraft; there's no way it hasn't been emptied by hundreds of hungry hands passing through before them. Sasha can feel his stomach clench. If Morgan feels the same, he doesn't mention it. They're almost past the trailer when their way is blocked. It's a piss poor ambush; two guys younger than Sasha, each armed with a plank that looks as if scavenged from an abandoned boat. The taller one barely reaches past Sasha's shoulders. The shorter one shakes visibly, his skin a blinding pale between patches of sunburns. He's hefty, and it does nothing to mask the obvious fact neither of them has eaten anything in days. [[They're just like him and Morgan, except even worse off.]] ]]There's a loud thump as someone in the trailer drops the light they were holding. A shrill "Who's there!?" breaks the silence as hands fumble to pick the light off from the bottom of the trailer and point it towards him and Morgan. They both squint at the glare. Sasha raises his knife. "We were travelling and saw your light from up the highway," Morgan says, and though he can't see anything but white, Sasha is sure he's smiling. "Need a place to spend the night. We've more chances together." Sasha feels Morgan's hand on his, pulling it down along with the knife. It takes a few moments, but the light is lowered. "Climb on up," says a voice. [[They climb.]]Their names are Dale and Elijah, Sasha learns as they head south together. They're headed towards Pennsylvania, where Dale's got family he hasn't heard from in months. He says their chances are slim, he knows that, but he has to at least try. Sasha remembers Morgan turning the useless phone around in his hands. He figures it's a gesture of anxiety, rather than hope, by now. Elijah and Dale hold hands all the way to the next gas station, where they wash up in the bathrooms as best as they can. The building stands quiet to the side of the road. A lone car is parked next to the pump. He and Morgan wait outside. He doesn't break the station window with his arm this time. There are few supplies left inside. Sasha sets his backpack on the dirty counter; there's not enough food for them to set up camp here, but he'll gladly switch out the sour granola bars he's been carrying since he left Portland. A half-empty box of Lithonate falls out. Elijah looks at it, looks at Sasha, and says nothing. [[They travel together for a few days after that.]]When the lights stop dancing in front of Sasha's eyes, there's two men - guys, more so, not older than him - huddled together against the side of the trailer, inspecting him with suspicion. He feels Morgan breathe beside him calmly, and swallows down his anger. He's too tired to fight. One of the men is short. Really short. His head barely touches the top of his friend's shoulder even though both are seated. His round face is flushed, and he's breathing hard. He's leaning into the other man heavily, and his arms are trembling from the cold. Sasha pulls a worn jacket out of his backpack and tosses it over to them. The taller guy looks at him gratefully, then covers their bodies. [[They're just like him and Morgan, except even worse off.]]It's just when they hit Boston that things turn to shit. The last time Sasha has been here was last winter, when Boylston Street was full of press and people cheering, and the air had not been taken over yet by the familiar smell of wasting flesh. Now, the streets are muddled with bodies more than cars and the buildings cast large shadows on the cold concrete of the city. There's a sharp turn at the intersection, Sasha remembers, and it's the turn where they're [jumped]<h1|. (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[Dale screams. Morgan dashes forward, ramming his fist into the rotting face next to Dale's arm. Sasha draws his knife out. Elijah stands beside him, worthless plank in his hand. It's over before any of them can [react]<h2| on anything but instinct. (click: ?h2)[(t8n: "dissolve")[The corpse is a corpse again, and there's exposed bone where it tore the flesh off Dale's arm. [[They don't address it until they've found shelter.]] ]]]] Elijah holds Dale's hand the entire night. Sasha doesn't sleep; the choked sobs don't keep him awake as much as the knowledge it could have been Morgan in front of the line. Morgan seems unbothered. The decision hangs in the air above them, cold and heavy. Elijah redresses the wound on Dale's arm. The flesh is already dying away, chunks of it grey and purple in colour. None of them says anything. Unlike the people on TV, they have no guns. Sasha offers his knife to Elijah, who only shakes his head. (text-color: "#8B0000")[ [[Forcing the knife into his hand doesn't feel good.]] ] (text-color: "#8B0000")[ [[It's an ugly business. Sasha might as well take care of it himself.]] ] [[Sasha cedes. It's not something he can force Elijah into.]]Elijah stares at the knife blankly. The handle is still warm from Sasha's palm, and the blade reflects his twisted face in a blur. He grips it tightly. Sasha doesn't envy him for a moment. Dale's eyes are murky like the dirty water they've been drinking, and the greyness has spread onto his face. His lips, tinted blue, tremble in the cold. He stares blankly at the wall in front of him. He doesn't see Sasha and Morgan standing to the side, doesn't see Elijah bite his lips, hard, as he thrusts the knife into Dale's throat. Elijah is careful not to get the blood in his eyes as he removes the knife, wipes it against Dale's shirt, and hands it back to Sasha. Ten minutes later, they drop a brick on Dale's head and hold a lousy funeral. Elijah speaks quietly, and Sasha can't hear him. The words aren't meant for him anyway. [[They can't stay here.]] (set: $elijah to $elijah+3) (set: $sasha to $sasha+1)He gives Elijah a few more moments with Dale before stepping forward. Behind his back, Morgan holds Elijah's hand. "You might want to turn away," he tells them, because he's not sure he could watch this himself were he in Elijah's place. Elijah closes his eyes but stays in place. He slams the knife into the top of Dale's head first. But his arms are weak, and the blade bends slightly. Dale doesn't seem to notice. He tries again. It's not like Dale needs his eyes anymore. A sickening, wet sound stuffs his ears as he twists the knife in the eye socket, and then again when he pulls it out. There's blood and chunks of grey left on the blade. Had he eaten anything(if: ((history:) contains "reach into their supplies"))[ more than half a granola bar], he's sure he would have been sick. Like this, he just wipes the blood off on Dale's dirty shirt. He stands up and motions towards the street. [[They can't stay here.]] (set: $elijah to $elijah+1) (set: $sasha to $sasha+2)They leave Dale's body in a dark room whose door they can bolt. Elijah stands on the other side, talking quietly at the whimpering mass that used to be Dale. Sasha can't hear anything he says. He waits outside with Morgan. "No one should live like that," Morgan says. In his mind, Sasha stifles the judging voice that questions whether he would be able to do any different. "Yeah," he says out loud, because nobody will ever let the poor bastard out of that room. "But no one should live like this either." Elijah steps out and motions to the road with his head. [[They can't stay here.]] (set: $sasha to $sasha+1) (set: $morgan to $morgan+1) (set: $elijah to $elijah+2)Morgan fills the time by citing passages of his [[favourite books]]. Sasha doesn't have it in him to tell him to stay quiet, not after Boston. Elijah asks if he can stay with them. There's no point in him looking for a family that wasn't his own, he says. Sasha suspects he doesn't want to be reminded of Dale any more than necessary. (if: ((history:) contains "Sasha cedes. It's not something he can force Elijah into."))[He suspects Elijah feels guilty about leaving Dale locked in that room, leaving him to not-die for infinity.] They take him in because, like them, he has nowhere to go, and, like them, he felt isolated long before everybody around him ran away. He's got medical skills, he tells them, he was pre-med before the world went to hell, sinking in student loans he could never pay back. He supposes those are gone now. Morgan grows quiet. [[It's a few more days on the road before they hit their next stop.]]"An encoder converts an input device state into a binary representation of ones or zeros. Consider a rotary switch with 10 positions used to input the numbers 0 through 9. Each switch position is to be encoded by a unique binary sequence. For example, switch position 7 might be encoded as 0111. A decoder performs the opposite conversion, from binary codes into output codes." Sasha has [[no idea->They can't stay here.]] what the hell Morgan is talking about. //Doncaster, home to about fifty corpses on the ground, with twenty more dragging themselves around.// That's not what it says on the sign, but it [[might as well be->It's a few more days on the road before they hit their next stop.]], thinks Sasha.There's a town that sits a mile or two away from the interstate, between a lake that's more of a rain puddle that just never dried away, and a hill topped in yellow grass. The board at the start welcomes them to [[Doncaster]]. (if: ((history:) contains "Doncaster"))[ [BANG.]<h1| (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[A body falls flat on the groud with a dull thump. The ones still standing ignore it. Sasha looks up just in time to see the upper window on one of the buildings shut itself. He stops. Morgan and Elijah stop with him. The house is in better shape than the rest in the row, with its door still on its hinges, barely, and the first story windows boarded up with rotting planks. There's a grey cloth hanging from one of the second story windows, the one Sasha saw close just seconds ago. Sasha swallows. [[Whoever is camped up there has guns.]]] ]]They approach the house with silent footsteps. Sasha's got his knife in his hand, and Morgan is wielding one of the spanners from his slowly-accumulated tool collection. "The windows are boarded up," says Elijah, "you think whoever's in there just forgot about the door?" Sasha stops and looks at him - he has a point. "I don't think that they, whoever is inside, I mean, has planned to stay in forever," Morgan interjects. "Sooner or later they're going to run out of food and other supplies." Sasha stares at Morgan, who hasn't eaten in five days. He doesn't bring it up; he has no energy to waste on meaningless fights, and he thinks Morgan knows it. Morgan always knows when something is wrong. Of course, in this case, the entire world is wrong. Sasha turns back towards the building. "Won't know if it's closed til we try it," he mumbles to himself quietly, and [[presses down the handle]].He's backed up against the wall. The door shakes with tremendous force. So hard, in fact, that he can see bits of the ceiling fall down, forming a pool of rubble n the floor by the door. There's groaning on the other side. Sasha closes his eyes tightly. He remembers day sixteen. He remembers all the roads they've walked on, all the cities they've been through while looking for shelter, any kind of shelter. He doesn't know exactly when he fell in love. He remembers seeing Morgan for the first time, a rucksack on his back and spanner in his hand, just having finished beating down one of the dead ones that decided to come after Sasha. His shirt was bloodied, even more so after he'd wiped his hand on it, then offered it to Sasha to help him stand up. He remembers the night the wind was too strong for them to sleep outside, and they'd cuddled together just behind a badly-preserved wall. Enough to not be in way of the fast, cold winds. They only had one blanket to share between them, and Sasha took Morgan's hands between his to warm them up. He remembers how they met Elijah and Dale. How they lost Elijah and Dale. He remembers how he lost Morgan. A loud crack breaks his reverie. Sasha slides down the wall. There's tears blocking his vision, and a kaleidoscope pattern when he looks up at the door. THE ENDThe door creaks open. He can see Elijah out of the back of his eye looking around cautiously, trying to spot if there's anything around that heard the old frame squeak and headed towards the noise. Elijah shakes his head and Sasha pushes the door in further. The inside of the house is dark. It's dark and there's a thick feeling of dust in the air. The heaviness strikes Sasha as wrong - there's fridge in one corner, and a calendar on its door, along with [[circled days]] and appointments. Elijah opens the fridge door and a rotten smell fills the air. It's disgusting, but it's a kind of disgusting Sasha has all but forgotten about - it's spoiled milk instead of rotting flesh, fermented fruit instead of blood. He can barely believe how welcome of a change it is to his lungs. He's almost sorry when Elijah scowls, disgusted, and quickly pushes the door closed. From where he's standing, he can see a closed door - likely the way to a bedroom, and stairs. Whoever was in the house earlier was on the second floor, Sasha thinks, and they probably still are. [[He decides to go upstairs.]] [[They should check the closed room first.]]Today is Grace's birthday, apparently. Sasha doubts the calendar's accuracy. The writing on top says August, but it tells him absolutely nothing. He's only been counting days since getting out of his apartment back in Portland, since he started to head some place safer, and the dates mean nothing to him. [[There's gotta be something more useful than a piece of paper around here.->presses down the handle]]No matter how much Sasha tries to soften his footsteps, the stairs keep croaking underneath his feet. He tries to focus his mind on his surroundings, tries to not think about just how much they sound like the groans of the restless bodies lurking around outside. He stops one stair before the top. Morgan is peeking out from behind him. Sasha guesses he's curious, because Morgan always is, even when it contradicts his survival instincts. Then again, Sasha's not sure Morgan even has any. He points ahead, towards a single source of light coming from their left - the upper floor window he looked at earlier, he guesses. There's a break in the light as a shadow moves in front of it every so often. Morgan nods, as if udnerstanding something Sasha hasn't even told him. He prepares to speak up, when he feels [a hand on his shoulder]<h1|. He turns back. (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")["I don't think it's smart to just charge in and scare them," Morgan says quietly. Behind him, Elijah nods. "They've got guns." Sasha stares at him blankly - he knows Morgan is right. All he's got is (if: ((history:) contains "They should check - and loot - the closed room first."))[a decently-sized knife - one he'd stolen from downstairs just moments ago.](else:)[the knife he'd dragged here all the way from home - small, its blade dulled down from continously scraping at metal for weeks.] "Fine," he concedes in a whisper. "How'd you propose we proceed?" The shadow settles at the window, blocking the major part of the light. From here, about all Sasha can see is a mess of thick brown hair. Morgan shrugs nonchalantly. "I don't think there's a way we can't scare them. It's just a matter of doing it in a friendly way." Sasha feels his brain get cloudy. Morgan isn't thinking rationally; Morgan never thinks rationally. "Fine, whatever, YOU deal with this then," he spits through his teeth before he can stop himself. He's gripping the knife so hard it hurts, and when he shuffles aside to let Morgan to the front- [["You're talkative for a bunch of dead people."]]]]He doesn't know how it's possible, but the room they enter is even darker than the living area. It takes a while for his eyes to adjust to the dark, but when they do, he can make out the planks on the window, boarded up so tight there's not a single ray of light coming through. There's also a bed in the room, pushed against two walls so it sits neatly in a corner, and there's a duffel bag on the bed. It doesn't look new by far, but it's in good condition - good enough, Sasha suspects, that it's pretty obvious someone has been using it, instead of it just being left behind by the previous owners of the house. He rummages around the bag to see its contets - a flashlight, some trail mix, rope, water bottles. "'s like a fuckin' boy scout dream in here," he says, more to himself than the other two, but Morgan takes him up on the comment. "I think a boy scout would likely be better prepared in case of emergencies than any of us three," he says in a good-natured tone of voice, like he's not comparing them all to a twelve year old kid in a survival competition, and they're the losers. "Shut up," Sasha forces through his teeth as he grabs the light. As he lifts it, he spots something underneath - a knife, sharper and bigger than his old friend. "Now this - this is not a boy scout toy," he says, and slides it in his pants. [[Time to go check out the second floor.->He decides to go upstairs.]]Sasha freezes in place. Great. The shadow stands up from its place in front of the window and gradually grows bigger until it completely blocks out the sun. He can just make out the shape of the person in front of them - about as tall as he is, Sasha figures, but built a little stronger. Definitely the kind of person he'd expect to survive longer than himself. He remembers the light in his hand and turns it on. The person squirms as the bright light shines right into their- his eyes. "Hey, stop that!" He's surprised by what he sees. It's not a middle agged, rugged man with an experienced trigger finger and a stubble that suggests he shaves with a knife. It's a guy, maybe even younger than Sasha, and a lot closer to his boy scout theory than he'd have expected. "You made a new home on those stairs? It's a great place, I mean, but the space is a little limited. Tight. Cramped." His voice is cheerful but he's still squinting and frowning in the light. It doesn't do much to placate Sasha. Morgan reaches in front of him to press the switch instead. [["That's way better. I'm Cairon."]]Cairon's face is obscured again, but Sasha can remember his looks just fine. He's got soft features and soft, brown curls falling onto his forehead, sticking to it with dried sweat. There's a scar on his cheek, as if freshly cut into the brown skin, not bandaged, but cleaned. "Cairon," Sasha repeats, and the name rolls off his tongue bitterly, because he's got an attitude like Morgan, and a smile like Morgan, and Morgan is returning it. In fact, Morgan speaks back before Sasha can think long enough to say anything. "Hi! I'm Morgan, and these are Elijah and Sa-" "Alexander," Sasha interrupts, because he's not excited to start on a nickname basis. Morgan frowns in confusion, but says nothing. [["I was joking before, but now it's looking like you're really planning on living on these stairs."]]Something inside of Sasha dissipates, and he's calm again. Calmer. He stands up fully, stretches his legs, and offers Elijah a hand to pull him upwards. Elijah accepts it. Cairon and Morgan are already by the window, where Sasha can now see Cairon has set camp. There's bags of crisps scattered all over the floor - prawn cocktail flavour - and a large water bottle next to some sheets assembled clumsily like a bedroll. There's a shotgun on top of the bedrool. A box of shotgun shells lie on the floor right next to it. Cairon notices him looking at it, because he crouches down to pick the gun up and runs a hand over it. "You like it? It's how I keep the dead ones away." "I saw that." Cairon laughs, and it's warm and inviting and so unlike the hollow laughs they've shared between just the three of them. "I'm sort of a good shot. As long as there's not a million of them and I've got something to point at their heads, I'm good." Sasha clutches (if:((history:) contains "They should check the closed room first."))[the knife he picked up downstairs tighter. Cairon looks at it, then smiles. "You made yourself at home downstairs, huh? Found my emergency bag." Sasha frowns. "How'd you know?" "Come on! Saw you coming from a mile away, atop of here. That's not the butter knife you brought with you. Don't worry about it. I've got my gun anyway." He pats the shotgun affectionately.](else:)[his knife. Cairon looks at it, then smiles. "You're still carrying that butter knife around? Come on, I've got a way better one stashed downstairs somewhere I can give you. You can't defend yourself with that." "Seriously?" Sasha's tone is unbelieving. "Yeah! Don't worry about it. I've got my gun anyway."] He turns to put the shotgun back down on his bed where it was before. [["You can't cut back on preventative measures nowadays."]]Sasha supposes he's right. They've had their share of run-ins with the dead ones. His knife might've done okay with- he's not thinking about [[day twenty-seven->Dale death recap]] again. Anyway, Cairon is right. He's much better off with a decent weapon. Having a gun would be ideal, Sasha thinks, but he's never learned to shoot one, even if they by some miracle came across a stash of useable firearms. Cairon settles back by the window, where Morgan is watching the corpses move in slow, painful-looking motions as their bones stick out and their muscle is exposed. Something comes into his mind. "You live here?" he asks, and Cairon looks back at him. "You mean like since before? Nah. It's a temporary shelter." His face is drawn, as if he's thinking hard about whatever is going on in his mind. After a few moments of silence, he speaks again. "Had a job here on the east coast. I was planning on earning some, then heading back for my sisters. They're in foster care." He looks away again, and focuses on the distant hills visible from the window. "I guess I'm heading back a little early." His smile looks forced for just a moment, before something flashes over his face, and he stands up again. [["So you're hungry?"]](if: ((history:) contains "Forcing the knife into his hand doesn't feel good."))[//He can't see what's going on from back here, with Elijah's small, crounched body concealing most of Dale. But the sounds he hears make him sick to the bone, and he's grateful when Elijah stands up, finally, and turns to them with sorrow in his eyes. Elijah's mouth opens to speak, and, behind him, Dale's eyes open even as the wound in his throat continues bleeding. [He rises to his feet shakily.]<h1|//](if: ((history:) contains "It's an ugly business. Sasha might as well take care of it himself."))[//There's blood dribbling from Dale's eye as he pushes it further and further into his brain and twist. The eye turns to white goo and mixes with the blood flowing freely down Dale's face, staining it as red as Dale's hair. Dale's other eye turns to him, pupil blown so wide he can see almost see the bloodied veins of his cornea twist behind the black. [Dale lifts a hand towards him.]<h1|//](if: ((history:) contains "Sasha cedes. It's not something he can force Elijah into."))[//They're barely through the door when Morgan's scream pierces the air. Sasha turns - there's a pale hand in Morgan's hair, dragging him back inside the building. He meets Morgan's eyes and there's nothing but fear in them; fear and a silent plea for Sasha to save him. Sasha runs after them, hands reaching to grab onto Morgan's arm, or his leg, or anything that would've brought Morgan back to him, but he's too late. He turns the corner and Morgan is sitting on the floor, blood seeping out of a neck wound that is turning grey fast. As he looks up, Sasha can see his eyes. [Murky, glassed over. Dead.]<h1|//] (click: ?h1)[(t8n: "dissolve")[And he wakes up just to see Morgan's concerned face, and he says "Do you even know how the fuck to sleep?" in the rudest tone he can manage with a shaky voice and dry throat, and Morgan smiles, and lays his head on Sasha's chest, and the world is just a little bit calmer. [[And they have to start again in the morning.->"You can't cut back on preventative measures nowadays."]]]]{ (print: "<script>$('html').removeClass(\)</script>") (if: (passage:)'s tags's length > 0)[ (print: "<script>$('html').addClass('" + (passage:)'s tags.join(' ') + "'\)</script>") ] }Sasha suspects Morgan doesn't sleep that night. In a way, he's almost right. They find Morgan's body that morning. It looks almost peaceful in the soft, cold sunlight. The light wind blows his hair around, onto and away from his face. He's smiling. Sasha falls down to his knees next to him. He picks up the unmoving torso and shakes it. The blood is getting all over his hands, his clothes, but he doesn't mind. "Morgan," he speaks softly, in broken words and with a broken heart. "Oh, god, Morgan." He can feel a hand pressed to his shoulder. He doesn't know whose it is. Maybe it's Cairon's, maybe Ssorin's - it doesn't matter. He doesn't move. He doesn't move for what feels like an eternity - and eternity after which, Sasha hopes, Morgan will wake up and grin at him, and tell him "Stop crying, you look stupid" in between laughter. He knows it's never going to happen, and it's not because Morgan would never tell him he looks stupid. It's because Morgan will never tell him anything again. They give Morgan's body a poor funeral that night. Sasha digs a shallow grave while swallowing sobs and snot, and if the shovel makes his hands grow calloused, it doesn't matter. They don't even have any flowers to leave on the grave as they walk away once again.Double-click this passage to edit it.He packs his thing up in the bag neatly - way neater than he'd have done it if it was just for himself. There's not a lot he's leaving behind. The rest of food. Some bottled water. His - Cairon's, more accurately - knife. The main advantage he's leaving them is one less person to take care of. Cairon's gun is resting against the wall. He walks silently, not to wake any of them up - it took long enough to get Morgan to sleep; he's not risking anything to have it go back to the way it was. He picks the shotgun up. It's loaded, a small gift, because Sasha isn't sure if he'd know how to reload it. Cairon never showed him. He'd only handed a handgun before. The shotgun is big. Bigger and heavier than he'd have expected, and it weighs his hand down as he brings it outside. How far is far enough? The woods are just a few minutes away - he could have gotten lost in there easily. But he doesn't want to leave them without a gun. It's the only real weapon they have. He sighs. He has to stay close. There's a chair just a few steps away from the clearing they'd set up as their shelter. Tag had put it there for scouting, he remembers. He sits down and closes his eyes as the barrel digs under his chin and into his throat.Double-click this passage to edit it.Double-click this passage to edit it.Sasha observes Cairon move between the boxes in the room. He figured they were empty, but Cairon pulls one off the top of a pile and opens it to reveal an envious amount of crisp packets. These are paprika flavoured. "Found a Lay's truck crashed a little bit southwest of here," he laughs. "It's not really something they'd serve you up in a fancy restaurant, but it's got calories and salt." He tosses a packet to Morgan, who looks at it blankly before setting it down on the floor. Cairon looks at him with surprise. "You're not hungry?" Morgan shakes his head. "I don't think about it much. I'm just not a fan of paprika." Cairon's face clears. "That's alright. There's enough flavours round here to put together a snack plate. Just look until you find whatever's good for you." Morgan nods in approval, but doesn't move. He's still looking out of the window. [[Sasha decides to join him.]] [[With his stomach rumbling, Sasha picks up the packet of crisps Morgan dropped and digs in.]]He stands next to Morgan in silence. He has no idea what Morgan's looking at, what he's looking //for//, but he's satisfied with the silence for now. Morgan's face is calm, the corners of his mouth drawn up in a slight smile. He hasn't seen Morgan smile since the day they left Dale's body behind. Morgan looks at him, his expression unchanged. "This is nice," he says. Sasha looks back through the window. The sun is setting over the house across the street, giving the entire town a distinct, warm feeling. It's not something Sasha would describe as pleasant, far from it in the current circumstances, but for the first time since they left Boston, he feels a sort of peace. The sort of peace where he wouldn't mind staying right where they are, with a year's supply of crisps, a gun to keep the bodies away, and Morgan right next to him until the day they starve. "Yeah," he agrees quietly. [[A hollow, fatalistic sort of peace.]]The spicy-saltiness of the crisps is a flavour Sasha has almost forgotten by now. It wasn't a snack he was used to getting even before, when all he had to do was walk down the stairs and across the street into the grocery store, whose clerk he had a silent, but amicable relationship with. She would nod at him as he entered, and he would nod at her, and he would say "Keep the change" as he paid, and she would thank him with a polite smile. He wonders what [[happened to her]]. He feels a little guilty. A little weak, eating through Cairon's food supply. One that would have lasted Cairon at least a year, if it was just him instead of three surprise guests. Safety comes in numbers, but so does increased consumption. He watches Elijah and Morgan talk softly by the window. They seem relaxed; Morgan points to something outside and Elijah smiles for the first time since Boston. The warm evening sunlight illuminates their faces softly. Morgan looks at him, still smiling. Sasha almost smiles back. [[They stay like this for a few days.]]It's raining the morning Cairon gathers them up in the upstairs living area again. The streets are wet and muddy, as far Sasha can see from the window, and there's red mixed in with the water from where the rain has started washing out the dried up blood. The only corpses he can see are the still ones on the ground. Cairon's face does not sport its usual carefree expression, Sasha notices, but he's doing a good job to hide it. He chews on his lower lip and fumbles with his thumbs, deep in thought. "You're going to say anything or did you just want our company for the fuck of it?" Sasha says. Morgan gives him a sideways look, but neither he or Elijah say anything. Cairon places his hands on his knees to keep them still. "We're running out of water," he finally says, moving one of the empty bottles in front of him. "Well. Fuck," Sasha says, because he's right. They can't use the running water in the kitchen - it comes out looking more like milk than water - and before today, there's been no rain to collect. [["What are we gonna do?"]] //Kiana Williams shoved all of her - admittely few and cheap - posessions into a bag. "Come on!" she yelled as her girlfriend frantically fumbled to pack her own stuff into a bag not unlike Kia's. "Hurry up!" "I'm trying!" Bess hissed through her teeth as she tried to zip up her rucksack for the umpteenth time. A chocolate bar fell out. Bess bent to pick it up, but Kia grabbed her hand. "We don't have time," she said softly, and gently tugged her along. Bess knew she was right. Their bus - just one of the many refugee busses meant to take them to the coast - was waiting a few blocks away, and they still had to run the distance. They wouldn't have even been made aware of it if it wasn't for one of their neighbours, who mentioned the getaway transport that was being organised by the municipality. Their feet hurt and they were out of breath. Completely out of breath. A short, stocky man looked them over as they breathed heavily and handed him their bags so he could put them away in the luggae compartment. They climbed the bus together - it was almost full already, with faces they recognised and others they'd never seen before. They all looked just as hurried, tired and scared as they did. But a couple of seats near the end was still empty. They both sat down. Bess put her head on Kia's shoulder. "It's gonna be okay," Kia said in a whisper and took Bess' hand in her own. "We've made it." Bess squeezed her hand gratefully.// [[Nothing of this ever reaches Sasha.->With his stomach rumbling, Sasha picks up the packet of crisps Morgan dropped and digs in.]]The house is sturdy and the dead few enough so they can sleep easy at night. Morgan's eyebags have begun to fade and his eyes are clearer, more attentive. He doesn't crawl into a corner when something outside sets off the church bells. It's dangerous, Sasha knows, but he begins to have hope. Maybe [[things will turn out okay]]. [[They're halfway into week two when he catches Cairon aside for a talk.]]No, things will never turn okay, not with the borders all closed up, as he remembers the news reporting earlier in the year, when everything wasn't a disaster and he and his mum could still sit down together at the weekend for lunch together. Portland didn't exactly fall first, but it didn't even take a month for the quarantine to start. [[He doesn't want to think about what happened to her.->They stay like this for a few days.]]"We can't stay here," Sasha says, and when Cairon looks down at his feet, Sasha knows he agrees. "We're running out of water. Me and Morgan- we had a plan. We were gonna head west. Guess we'd take Elijah with us- but you?" Cairon shrugs. "What about your sisters? You said you wanted to go pick them up." Cairon looks down again, and Sasha knows he's struck a nerve, and that he shouldn't press the matter further, but he can't stop himself. He doesn't even notice when his tone rises. "You think their chances are getting better every day we spend in here? Fuck, Cairon! Just fucking think for a moment!" Cairon looks up at him. His eyes are wet and red, and he pushes Sasha away. Sasha stares as Cairon runs down the stairs. When he turns to the window, Elijah is looking at him with concern. Sasha frowns at him and turns away. When Cairon approaches him that evening, he almost says he's sorry. "You're right," Cairon says, voice loud and firm. [["We've gotta get going."]]Cairon lifts his head to look at him. He's still biting his lips in anxiety. Sasha can see a tiny line of blood begin to form on his teeth as Cairon opens his mouth to speak. "I- I don't know. I figured I'd be on my way by now already, but then you guys came and-" Cairon looks at **person** and his eyebrows drop apologetically. "Anyway, we can't stay here forever." Sasha frowns. He knows what Cairon is talking about, and that it's none of his business. He also knows Cairon is completely right - they'll die of thirst if they stay here any longer. [["We should move on."->"We've gotta get going."]] [["Maybe there's water left in some of the neighbouring houses."]]They gather up however much of the crisps will fit into their bags - Morgan pops them with a pencil to let the air out, it's so they'll take up less space, he says - and set out in the morning. This is the plan: Morgan and Elijah get the house across the street, Cairon and Sasha the one to their left. "Yell if anything happens," Sasha tells Morgan with a blank expression, "I'm not telepathic to instinctively know when you fuck something up." Morgan smiles and tells him not to worry. He taps his spanner - the heavy, rusty one he's been carrying around since forever - to his shoulder. "I've got it under control." "Right," says Sasha, and turns to motion Cairon to get going. The door is locked. Which is ridiculous, Sasha thinks, because who locks their door when the fucking sky is falling and your dead-eyed relatives are clawing to get a bite of your flesh? [["We can get in through a window or something,"]] says Cairon, and he's right - the windows on this house have not been boarded up. They could break in easily like that. [["If there's electricity and an alarm, we're fucked. Just break the door in."]]They circle the house until they find a window that leads into what looks like the living room. Sasha steps aside and Cairon smashes the glass in with the end of his shotgun. Sasha holds his breath. Everything is silent. The remaining glass gets caught between his fingers, but he pulls himself up and into the room. He pulls in Cairon and smears his hands with blood as well. Cairon looks at Sasha, then wipes his palm on the cleaner of the curtains. [[They are in no hurry, there's time to check every room, Sasha figures.->"You coming?" he says and steps into the house.]]Cairon shrugs and lets Sasha steps ahead to position himself in front of the door. It's not old or rotten by any means, but no one has been using it for a while, and it shows. Sasha rams in with his shoulder and the door lifts from its hinges, then falls into the room. "Nice job," he can hear Cairon say from behind him. He doesn't answer. [["You coming?" he says and steps into the house.]]Their bags are packed again in a matter of minutes. They don't have much, is the thing - with only a gun and knife and a spanner to act as weapons, the bulk of their inventory is taken up by Cairon's supply of crisp packets and however few bottles of water they've got left. "Where'd you say we should go again?" Cairon asks, and, after days, Sasha brings up his map again, the one with the crudely drawn path they were going to take. "Morgan and I were gonna head west," he traces the route with his finger, South from Portland and all the way to the state of New York. "There was a TV Morgan fixed, in one of the shops north in Portland. Last news we ever caught said there's more survivors camped out west in California. We were thinking of going there. Elijah had his own plans, I guess, but..." His voice trails off. Cairon nods - they'd never told him the whole story about Elijah, and he doesn't know about Dale, but he understands. "We've all lost something," he told them on the first day they stayed at the hosue togehter, "we can try and get it back together, too." Back then, Sasha thought he was talking nonsense - idealisms best left for people like him and Morgan to share and give people false hope. But now? [[Now he's not so sure anymore.]]Double-click this passage to edit it.The living area is roomy, with minimal space occupied by a couch and TV set near one corner. The rest of the floor is covered only by an expensive-looking rug with intricate patterns woven with gold thread into red fabric. "Wouldn't have minded living here," Cairon remarks as he examines one of the cabinets lining the wall. It's filled with porcelain cups that don't look like they have been used ever. Maybe that's why whoever used to live here thought to lock the door. Not that tea sets are useful to anyone wandering around in any way, the dead even less so. "Check this out," Sasha says, and Cairon follows him to the kitchen. The fridge door has been left open - there's a swarm of flies buzzing around what Sasha thinks used to be a plate of pasta. But the important thing is just next to the fridge - a sink faucet that is leaking clear water. Cairon looks at him. "You think it's safe to drink?" Sasha shrugs. "I'd rather shit for a while than die of thirst three fuckin' days after leaving." Cairon hums in approval - they both know he's right. [[Filling the empty bottles with tap water doesn't take much.]]They're back outside after about half an hour, only to find Morgan and Elijah waiting for them on the street already. "Find anything good?" says Elijah, eyeing up the bags on their backs. "You tell me," says Cairon through laughter. He tosses a bottle full of clear water to Elijah. Elijah brings it before his eyes to examine through cracked glasses. "Are you sure this is safe?" Sasha is about to give Elijah the same answer he'd given to Cairon when Morgan interrupts him. "We can always boil it before drinking," he says in a bright tone of voice. "That's gonna get rid of the bacteria." Elijah, who looks convinced but still mildly uncomfortable, lwoers the bottle from his face. "We only got two first-aid kits," says Morgan, "but Elijah's good enough to work miracles with that." Elijah looks at him, his face drawn in humble embarrassment.They don't encounter anyone for weeks from then. They keep off the roads and highways - there's not enough cars to justify the increased exposure anymore. The ground is softer on their feet than the concrete, and there's a different feeling when you're not walking between cages of broken, sizzled steel. This time, it is night when it happens.